Our bodies are meant to be a finely tuned machine. As we head into cold and flu season, giving our systems a “check up” helps ensure the engine is running top-notch. Antioxidants and free radicals are important components within our systems, but what do they do?
– Free radicals: These are unstable molecules that the body constantly produces as a reaction to stressors. Free radicals bring both positive and negative effects to our bodies. They are essential for helping with immunity and fighting infection, but can also cause harm if levels become too high.
– Antioxidants: These are molecules that fight the free radicals in your body. Our bodies have their own antioxidant supply. Antioxidants are also found in certain foods, especially fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based whole foods.
– Oxidative Stress: This is the hostile environment created in our bodies when free radicals outnumber antioxidants.
There are several lifestyle and environmental factors that promote free radical formation and oxidative stress. These include excessive alcohol intake, cigarette smoke, sustained high blood sugar levels, toxins, environmental pollution, and even intense and prolonged exercise (from causing tissue damage). The accumulation of these compounds is thought to be a major factor in aging and chronic disease.
It is also important to have a varied diet as each antioxidant found in our food serves a different function. “Super foods” are those with high antioxidant content and are often the most rich and vibrant colors. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables, (think carrots, spinach, peas) contain beta-carotene. Lutein is found in green leafy vegetables. Lycopene is contained in pink and red fruits, including tomatoes and watermelon.
The best way to focus on a diet rich in nutrients is to eat the rainbow daily. Look at the colors on your dinner plate. Is it filled with mostly brown or beige items? The antioxidant levels are probably low. Add some color!
Will supplements be enough? High doses of antioxidant supplements, including Vitamin A, C, and E can actually be harmful. They can also interact with some medications, therefore it is important to speak with a health care provider before using any of these synthetic products.
We all need a balance of free radicals and antioxidants in our bodies to ensure we have a healthy functioning system. Remember, balance is the key. Always.